Recently we had a call with TheCR Network members to go through the 2012 State of Community Management report. Not surprisingly with everything on their plates, many had not had time to digest it all the way through. So they were thrilled to have Rachel Happe go over the key findings in more detail and be able to ask her questions.
Out of that roundtable call came the knowledge that some still can’t nail down which stage of maturity their community is in. And we hear that from our greater community as well. One reason for this is that some companies may have more than one community and those can be pocketed and in different stages of maturity.
While we understand it can be difficult to take our Community Maturity Model and apply it to each and every company and community strictly. We see it as a guideline, a way for companies to understand what challenges they are facing now and what can expect to face as their communities grow and mature. This is important for a couple of reasons:
1) You cannot go from opening a community to having a social business instantly. First you must have a strong foundation. Getting to Stage 4 is not the critical part, the critical piece is to get people in an organization to operate differently. This will not happen overnight but will be a more gradual change which takes time.
2) In terms of staffing, different people and skill sets may be better suited to address each stage of maturity. And understanding who you need on the team and when their skills will be needed most is critical to ensure a community’s success.
Here is an overview of those challenges discussed on the roundtable call:
Stage 1: Hierarchy
The struggle here is to get people in an organization to take social and community seriously. There are many challenges faced in this stage but some common themes are:
- There is a lack of common understanding of the language.
- There are many cultural and leadership issues that can be downright hostile towards using a more social or community approach.
- There is a lack of understanding as to what is realistic. This will become a huge problem if it is not addressed early on because communities take a very different operational dynamic than most linear or transactional business practices. So, executives or managers who are trained in a linear or transactional operational approach need to understand that the process change that they make is not going to result in immediate effects in the same way that it does in the transactional world.
- There is a high likelihood of failure in this stage as organizations experiment with the community approach that works for them. Failure is a big cultural hurdle to overcome in order to advance to the next stage.
Stage 2: Emergent
The struggle here is to get enough budget and resources to be able to make real progress before you are expected to show results. Challenges faced include:
- The investment required and the benefits gained are not universally understood. Furthermore, the complexity that is required to do this is definitely not understood (at least not until you are in the middle of it).
- There is a lot of impatience to see hard evidence and ROI. This is particularly difficult because of the experimentation factor discussed earlier. Therefore, anything that can be done to set the expectations of this as an experimental phase will lessen the stress of proving ROI right away. Even so, it is very difficult to instill patience in these executives making it feel like a constant battle.
- Usually, especially at the beginning of this phase, there is a lack of community management resources and a strong tendency to want to solve this problem with technology. That does not typically pay off very well, but it can be very hard to get the budget for resources and headcount. For executives, additional budget and resources feels like a very long-term investment for an experimental program.
- Polices are not clear and employees are often confused about what their role should be, if any. External customers might be confused, too, if there are many different channels and no clear expectations or programming with respect to how the organization manages or interacts with existing communities.
- The lack of governance creates many internal power struggles.
Stage 3: Community
The struggle is wholesale leadership change across the organization. And while the challenges in this stage may seem few compared to Stage 2, they are large ones:
- Community management can be de-prioritized because of its success. In other words, the stakeholders think that it is managing itself and, therefore, it no longer needs community management any longer (or at the very least, they do not see the need to grow the team).
- Communities start to understand and exert their new found power. This leads to the negotiation of a new balance of power between the organization and the communities. That is a huge boulder at this stage and very different from the tactical boulder that was rolled up the hill in Stage Two. It is more nuanced, harder to articulate and harder to achieve. It is challenging to get the funding and resources to do this effectively.
Stage 4: Network
The struggle here is that there is a fundamental shift in the business model. Challenges include:
- This obviously requires board level, very strategic and long-range level vision from top executives. Accordingly, many companies will not be at this stage any time soon.
- The organization must be really good at negotiating this shared value, which includes not only financial value, but human value, as well.
- Part of that human value and that non-financial value exchange includes understanding the externalities of the business that are not currently well accounted for and understanding how to affect those externalities, as well as how to incorporate the ecosystem into solving those that are negative and promoting those that are positive.
These are by no means the only struggles communities will face, but they are common themes that we have seen in the 3 years we have been doing this research. We learn more and more each year thanks to discussions like this one with our TheCR Network members and in intensive meetings during our advisory service work. We hope this gives you some idea what to look for and be ready to tackle as your company takes this journey into community and social business.
TheCR Network is a membership network that provides strategic, tactical and professional development programming for community and social business leaders. The network enables members to connect and form lasting relationships with experts and peers as well as get access to vetted content.